Every month, parishioners of St. Henry’s Church in Averill Park gather in the parish’s community room to talk about how to have a healthy and safe lifestyle while living with diabetes.

The diabetes support group is led by parishioners Jane Boyd and Linda Banker.

“As with any chronic illness, you fall off the wagon,” Mrs. Boyd explained. If there are members struggling with healthy eating or issues with medications, she said, others “step up” and give them advice and encouragement: “They advocate for each other and cheer each other on.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and more than one in three adults has prediabetes. Diabetes can cause serious health problems, from kidney failure to strokes or loss of limbs.

The St. Henry’s support group began eight years ago, having evolved from a walking club. A number of the walkers in the club were exercising because they had diabetes; Mrs. Banker suggested they form a support group.

Mrs. Boyd is an instructor at the Albany College of Pharmacy and a pharmacist at Four Corners Pharmacy in Delmar. She said the focus of each meeting changes; discussion topics have included skin care, dealing with illness, basics of nutrition, food portion control and kidney disease. Mrs. Boyd also brings literature on diabetes and healthy recipes for members to try.

“My goal is to be a cheerleader to them,” she said.

Mrs. Boyd remembered the feeling when her son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of only 17 months. She wanted to make sure he had a normal life, and she brings that “don’t let the disease limit you” mantra to the support group meetings.

She spoke of one member who came back to the group after a long time away, saying she wanted to get her life back on track. The group talked about ways for her to lower her blood sugar count, telling her to cut out snacking before bed.

“She couldn’t wait to see me at church,” said Mrs. Boyd. “She came running to me and said, ‘We did it!’” Her blood sugar numbers were back in normal range.

St. Henry’s isn’t the only parish addressing the spread of diabetes: In February, the Knights of Columbus hosted a class at St. Edward’s parish in Clifton Park on how to prevent type 2 diabetes.

“[Around] 86 million people have prediabetes, and the population’s health right now is moving in that direction,” said Mary Pat Ambrosino of Ellis Diabetes Care at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. She led the course with colleague Cindy Eisenbeck of Ellis’ diabetes prevention program. “This is a movement across the country, [and] now prevention is getting attention.

“There are no symptoms of prediabetes at all,” Mrs. Ambrosino added. “We’re trying to raise awareness.”

Joe Galluppi, one of the knights who helped to organize the event, said that the course was “well received.” Attendees learned how to watch their weight and eat healthy, and about how important it is to stick to these lifestyle changes.

(Contact St. Henry’s support group through the parish office at 518-674-3818.)